In a whirlwind two-day masterclass, a set of local jazz students were put through their paces by Chicago’s rising jazz star Marquis Hill. The masterclass culminated in a performance, A Night of Jazz with Marquis Hill, where those students performed live on stage with Hill himself.
Sitting in on Marquis Hill’s masterclass with University of Adelaide Elder Conservatorium of Music jazz students is a fascinating experience. These fresh young faces are at their posts throughout, concentrating hard on learning Hill’s composition She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not. Hill intermittently listens, advises and plays his trumpet with the students.
“And here comes a little crescendo,” says Hill as the tune rises emotionally. Soon after student Stacey Tonkin sings the vocals, she jokes that they’re too high for her. “No,” says Hill, “you sounded great!”
The respect in the room for this eminent musician is palpable, but he’s completely unpretentious and utterly focussed on these students and their music. They’re working to learn from Hill and construct a setlist for A Night of Jazz with Marquis Hill, the culminating concert of this masterclass.
Hill’s excited by the skill of the students and isn’t phased by Adelaide’s distance from America’s jazz capitals of New York and his hometown Chicago.
“The amazing part about it to me is that the music is universal. I’ve never been here and I’ve never met them [the students], but we can get together and get a set of music together in a couple of hours because this music is a language.”
For Hill, the opportunity to help teach these young musicians is invaluable as it contributes to the global jazz scene and what he passionately describes as “pushing the music forward”.
The acclaimed musician has himself been the beneficiary of musical prizes like the $15,000 in prizes Helpmann Academy presented to these jazz students this week. Most notably, he won the coveted Thelonious Monk Jazz Trumpet Competition in 2014, which gave him the opportunity to professionally record his “first big album” The Way We Play and gain widespread recognition for his talent.
Hill thinks this is an invaluable opportunity for these students with parallels of his own rise in the jazz world.
“I’m pretty fortunate to have been granted some of these opportunities back in the States,” says Hill. “I also did a competition called the Carmine Caruso Competition and there’s an album called the International Trumpet Guild, which was from another competition… They opened doors and helped me network with other musicians in this field, so I think it’s very important.”
The potential for such awards to quickly open doors can be witnessed on a local level as the 2016 Expr3ss! Award recipient, Nicholas Pennington, used his prize money to undertake a mentorship under New York saxophonist Will Vinson, and has subsequently been award a $90,000 scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music.
This year’s Expr3ss! Award winner, trombonist Thomas Voss, says he plans to use his prize money to travel to the 2017 International Trombone Festival and invest in one-to-one lessons with jazz musicians. He’s excited to learn from Hill as well, saying “It’s a delight not just to hear Marquis play these songs live, but to play with him.”
For Hill though, awards and masterclasses like these aren’t just a boon for winning students. They’re important to the future of jazz itself. These are the people that, as he frequently says, will “push the music forward.” Key to jazz’s evolution is new musicians writing new music.
“It’s cool to play standards and American sombre classics, but to me it’s all about pushing the music forward, so original composition is really important. I think it can be pushed forward by students like these, and creative people, creative minds writing original music. It’s just really important.
“It’s so easy to get caught up trying to mimic what the greats did,” he says. “I can spend my life trying to sound like Miles Davis or Freddie Hubbard, but what do I gain from that? I think it’s important for us to try and find our own voices, and that alone pushes the music forward.”
As singing student Stacey Tonkin told The Adelaide Review after Hill’s class, “This has just opened my eyes to how I should approach my routine and my music.”
Full List of 2017 Helpmann Academy Jazz Award Winners
Expr3ss! Award for Best Overall Graduate – Thomas Voss
Bendigo Adelaide Bank Award – Alexander Flood, Top Drums Undergraduate
Howell Ross Award – Maksym Grynchuk, Top Trumpet Undergraduate
Tommy Norman Award – Dylan Kuerschner, Top Bass Undergraduate
Rob Lyons Award – Stacey Tonkin, Top Voice Undergraduate
Keith & Susie Langley Award – Tyler Venter, Top Guitar Undergraduate
Helpmann Academy Encouragement Award – Andrew Casey, Piano Undergraduate
Southern Jazz Club Encouragement Award – Jack Degenhart, Saxophone Undergraduate
Photography: Jonathan van der Knaap